The Washington Redskins’ offseason program draws to a close today, and in six weeks players report for training camp. But there still are questions about the team’s secondary.
Brandon Meriweather appears set to take over for the departed LaRon Landry at strong safety. But training camp figures to feature a three-way competition for the starting free safety position.
Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris both spoke highly of Meriweather, who signed with Washington this offseason after a disappointing season in Chicago.
Meriweather is trying to regain the two-time Pro Bowl form that he showed in New England. He said that unlike his time with the Bears, he feels comfortable with his responsibilities in Washington’s system. He is eager to prove that he remains an impact player.
“I ain’t ate in like three years now, so I’m starving,” Meriweather said.
The University of Miami product wouldn’t go into specifics when asked why he didn’t fit in Chicago’s system. “Just different schemes. I don’t think every scheme is for everybody,” he said. “The scheme for Chicago and me just didn’t work out. Good luck to them guys and I’m with the Redskins now.”
But coach Mike Shanahan offered this: “I think Brandon Meriweather, you know, ran a system in New England that is very similar to what we’re doing, and in Chicago it was a lot different than what he has done in the past, with more of a two-deep structure and three-deep. So, I think he fits in our system a lot better than he did in Chicago and I can see that on the practice field.”
When asked for an assessment of Meriweather’s play, Haslett said, “I think Brandon is really athletic and really instinctive. He’s got a great nose for the ball. He’s most like some of the guys I’ve coached in the past or we watch on film that emulate the scheme we are trying to play. So I think he’s got great ball skills. I mean, you can see why he was in the Pro Bowl.”
The candidates for starting free safety are offseason additions Madieu Williams and Tanard Jackson, and holdover DeJon Gomes. Coaches see the fifth safety, veteran Reed Doughty, as a knowledgeable, reliable player capable of filling in at either spot.
It would appear that Williams currently has the edge. In practices, he has looked fast and aggressive in coverage and boasts good leadership and communication skills. Jackson may be the most athletic of the bunch and has good familiarity with Morris, having played for him in Tampa Bay. He is coming off of injuries, however, and as a result, has missed practice time this offseason. Gomes has shown improvements from his rookie year, and has taken snaps on both the first and second units.
Said Haslett: “Madieu is really, really smart. He kind of runs the show back there. I think he’s on top of it. He’s kind of like having a coach on the field. He’s also got good ball skills. He can run well. [Jackson] really is athletic. He’s like having a corner back there. He can cover a lot of ground. You know, we just haven’t had him long because of the injury. He had the knee and the shoulder, so he’s probably the furthest behind all of them right now. And I think [Gomes], I know he’s not an addition, but I think he’s really, for a guy that we stuck in there at the end of the year, he’s really grown up and we’re excited about him. And obviously Reed [Doughty] is steady-Eddie, he’s done a great job. But I think it’s great competition.”
Although Jackson is behind in the acclimation process, he certainly hasn’t been ruled out. The six-year veteran said that right after he was released by Tampa Bay, Morris called him, expressing interest in bringing him to Washington. He signed two days later.
Morris said despite strong showings by Williams and Gomes, competition for the free safety spot remains wide open, and the players will vie for the job throughout training camp and the preseason.
“Everybody can compete for a starting job. I’m in the business of giving guys an opportunity who go out and work hard and play well,” Morris said. “If you come out here and play well and do a nice job in the preseason, do a nice job throughout the process, I’m certainly one of those guys who’s going to be in Coach Shanahan’s office and Coach Haslett’s office to plead the case who I believe needs to start. Then, we’ll go out there and play who we need to play and get wins.”
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